Okay, that may be a little melodramatic. It was only in the low 80s this Christmas, high 70s if you sat in the shade. Fahrenheit, of course. I’m still getting the hang of the whole Celsius thing, as a godless Yank. My current rule of thumb is that if it’s over 28 by mid morning, I’m going to feel like death by mid afternoon. Anyway, anything over freezing is going to feel weird when I see Christmas trees decorating the shops, and will probably continue to do so for several years. Possibly forever, considering I spent 28 Christmases in Maine, and 2 in New York City. I equate it to shoveling massive amounts of snow.
When I say Christmas here, I really mean Hanukkahmas. Or Chrismakkah. Or whatever other bastardization other Jewish-but-not-super-serious-about-it families have used throughout the years. My parents always put up a tree under the rationale that it was the best way to show off all the ornaments they had collected traveling through Europe, and really, the whole bringing a pine tree inside and dressing it up has more in common with drunken pagan rituals than anything having to do with the fellow in the manger. We usually paired it with potato pancakes, menorahs, dreidels and all the other accouterments of the traditional Jewish holiday.
By the way, the story of Hanukkah would still make a kickass action movie and I’m forever upset that no one has made it yet. I mean, you’ve got a massive, bloody siege in the midst of the Maccabean revolt. A band of brothers standing up to an invading force being pressured by corrupt Tobiads to profane the great temple with pigs’ blood and idols to Zeus and whatnot. Do some gritty desert town battles culminating in the final week of the siege. Get The Rock, Vin Diesel, Nic Cage, Gerard Butler and Jason Statham as the Sons of Matthathias. Get Kurt Russell to play Matthathias himself. At the end of the movie he can run Antiochus through with a giant spiked menorah and yell “shabbat shalom, motherfucker” or something equally colorful. I’d watch it. I’d be there on opening night.
Well, I think that’ll just about satisfy my hate mail quota for the end of 2016.
All that aside, this was a good Christmas, a good holiday season in general. It feels weird to get as much time off as I am. I’ve got a solid ten days here, and I’m used to maybe getting a four day weekend. I plan to spend a lot of that time doubling down on reading and writing, which is something I’ve already started chipping away at.
I had an idea pop into my head, related to that post I made back in October about fairies and horror. I kind of rolled it around in my mind over the weekend and I think I’d like to try and write a contemporary fairy tale, one that is uniquely American and not an urban fantasy piece. Not a noir-esque story with supernatural creatures, but something about the thin lines between the two worlds and what it looks like when the veils fray. I’ve got a couple thousand words down on paper as an experiment and I’m finding myself incorporating, of all things, the imagery of the post-apocalypse and the authoritarian-flavored dystopia as a parchment on which I’m slowly fleshing out fairies, changelings, bards and stone circles. I’ll post some more once I actually figure out what I want to do with it, but it feels good to write and that’s rare enough in a new story that I’m going to pursue it.
I’ve also transcribed about fifty pages worth of notes from all the historical documents I’ve been sifting through. Everything from Babylon to the WW1 era, everything I’ve been hinting at here to various degrees. It’s a lot of damn notes. Putting them in order and tagging them for future reference is as arduous a project as any amount of worldbuilding I’ve done before. I’m trying to be extremely careful not to get sucked into a worldbuilding hole under a different name, too. This is the bare bones I need to work on the story, the surface stuff and the bones underneath.
Now that I’m done making myself sound suitably Frankensteinian,
I spent the week slowly doling out essays from Neil Gaiman’s new-ish collection, The View from the Cheap Seats. It is an absolute delight of a book. Every single essay inside of it is a treasure trove for hungry minds. You will find meandering essays on the evolution of Sword and Sorcery fantasy from Conan to Leiber nestled in alongside tributes to Lou Reed, prophetic warnings about the comic book recession from someone who had ridden the wave of its boom in the 90s, suggestions on books to read and things to look for. It’s one of the most hopeful books I have ever read, even at its darkest points. I think my favorite parts are the bits about his interactions with other artists of various mediums. Old stories about going on late night walks with Tori Amos or getting lost with Terry Pratchett and seeing how the man was basically a rage-fueled tornado with a gnomish smile and a silly hat hiding it all. I think it’s an invaluable book to anyone who looks books, either reading or writing them. If you do both then it might be one of the best things you read this decade, frankly. I acknowledge that I hero worship Gaiman a bit and that’s going to bias me heavily; I got into Neverwhere and The Sandman the same year I picked up my first Discworld novels and between the two authors I realized that I needed to write.
That’s my nonfiction book of late. For fiction, I picked up a nice little anthology called New Worlds, Old Ways edited by Karen Lord. It was good. I am afraid that I lacked the cultural context to understand a few of the stories, but even then I was able to appreciate them on a purely surface level, the raw form of the story and the crafting of the language in all of these is great. If anything, many of them kind of remind me of Jorge Borges. I understand that this is extremely weird, Borges hailing from more of a Latin American backdrop, but there’s a certain dreamy, surreal quality that permeates their work in the same way. As I read more and more outside of the American/British monopolgy, I find the weirdest bleedovers and similarities, and I suppose Argentine and Trinidad writers having similar structure isn’t that much stranger than Finnish stories seeming a close sibling to Japanese literature in terms of how the stories are laid out. But I digress here. New Worlds is not perfect, but it’s new and different, and that happens to be what I crave lately. I was never sure exactly how a story was going to turn out because I didn’t have a massive amount of familiar tropes and setups to help me predict what would happen next. I like that. A lot.